My neighborhood in West L.A. is like a gated community, but without the gates. Single-family residences only; no apartments allowed. No stores or home-run businesses. The homeowners association enforces its rules and regs with an iron fist. Occupancy limits ensure that a hot mess of “huddled-massers” can’t move all 300 members of their immediate family into one house. Lawns must be maintained, garish colors are not allowed on outside walls. We have parks, a fountain, and a private security patrol. Head north, and you get to the mega-mansions of Beverly Hills. Head west, the beach. But head south, and you’ll encounter “those blocks”—four city blocks of crappy old apartments nestled right up alongside the deafening 10 freeway. “Those blocks” are remnants of when this area used to have a heavy black presence, about forty years ago, before rising home prices made it almost entirely white and Jewish.
“Those blocks” are not in my neighborhood, but they’re walking distance from it, and they sit adjacent to a supermarket I often use, because, unlike the fancy market up the street from me in the opposite direction, this one sells booze until 2 a.m. Last week, several residents of “those blocks” decided it would be a real hoot to have a good old-fashioned Wild West-style shoot-out in the parking lot of that supermarket. Following the gunfight, one shooter ran back into the fetid alleys between the rotting old apartments, while the other ran into the market itself, sparking a panicked evacuation and a four-hour standoff with police.
Whenever gentrification is mentioned in the press, it’s always in a negative light. “Gentrification hurts poor people!” “Gentrification penalizes minorities!” Well, I have absolutely no problem with saying that I love gentrification. In fact, I would give my right arm to be able to gentrify the living shit out of “those blocks.” If it were up to me, I’d flatten ’em, disinfect the ground, and put up some nice, expensive condos. And the good little Democrat homeowners who live on my block feel the same way, even though they’d never dare admit it publicly. But I don’t mind saying: Gentrification today, gentrification tomorrow, gentrification forever. Before gentrification took off around here in the late 1980s, the areas adjacent to my neighborhood to the south/southeast almost entirely comprised “those blocks.” Half-abandoned houses, run-down apartments, dudes doing drug deals in the streets. Things could not be more different now. Pretty houses, new, clean apartment buildings, and a greatly reduced crime rate.
The gentrification of those adjacent neighborhoods has helped my property values skyrocket, so hooray for gentrification. Of course, if a homeowner with my skin tone ever utters such a cheer too loudly, he’ll immediately be accused of racism—by minority activists, sure, but also by fellow homeowners who, like my neighbors, secretly share his joy. It’s a profoundly dishonest situation. Anti-gentrification advocates are applauded, while those who benefit from gentrification—and I’m not talking about “greedy corporate fat cats” or “one-percenters,” but middle-class homeowners like myself—feel pressured to shut up and lie.
Yet, as heartless and selfish as I might seem regarding my desire to take a flamethrower to “those blocks,” are L.A.’s vaunted anti-gentrification activists any better? Might they, in fact, be worse?
In 2016, I wrote about the Boyle Heights neighborhood in East L.A. Boyle Heights is about 95% Latino, and its residents aim to keep it that way. Last year, the Obama administration handed down a federal civil rights indictment against Boyle Heights’ oldest and largest street gangs. The gangs had been using violence and intimidation to keep black people from moving into the neighborhood. Blacks who braved the threats and tried to make a life for themselves in Boyle Heights’ low-cost housing units soon found themselves firebombed into homelessness. The gangs had strong support from the community, and even after the federal indictment, the area is still almost entirely devoid of blacks.
Boyle Heights activists have been in the news once again, and this time, their targets are white. They’ve been waging a relentless campaign to force the closure of any stores that might attract white people to the neighborhood. First to go were the art galleries, which were targeted because art appreciation is apparently a whites-only endeavor (unless you’re Frida Kahlo or a graffiti tagger). “Fuck white art” was painted on gallery doors. Windows were broken, employees harassed. Most of the targeted gallery owners surrendered to the segregationists and fled. After defeating a bunch of pretentious art sissies, the activists decided that the coffee shops were next. Yes, drinking coffee is now apparently emblematic of white supremacy. Protesters picketed a local coffee shop, holding signs that read “Caffè AmeriKKKano” (because if the Klan was known for anything, it was its love of espresso) and “fuck white coffee” (okay, seriously, that doesn’t even make a lick of sense). Customers trying to enter the store were harassed. Signs were posted around the city depicting a white hipster’s head in the crosshairs of a rifle. And through it all, at no point did the activists make any attempt to hide the racial nature of their cleansing campaign: “No white people. No white stores.” It’s almost funny reading the reactions of some of the gallery and coffee-shop owners. “But we’re progressive whites! We’re the good guys! We resist Trump!”
They don’t get, or refuse to get, that it’s about race, not politics.
Needless to say, the anti-gentrification campaigners were hailed as heroes by the local press (and by national outlets like Newsweek). Curiously, in all of the coverage devoted to the 2017 war against the Boyle Heights “white wave” (as the activists referred to it), not a mention was made of last year’s civil rights indictment. Reporters and editors steadfastly avoided bringing up the antiblack pogroms of years past.
Why do you think the antiwhite campaign was presented in isolation from the previous year’s antiblack campaign?
Simple. Because the residents of Boyle Heights are not fighting gentrification; they’re fighting diversity. If they were only concerned with gentrification—i.e., ensuring that home prices and rents don’t rise—they’d welcome black residents, as, generally speaking, an influx of blacks tends to depress property values. But no, gentrification isn’t the foe here. The Latinos of Boyle Heights want a neighborhood that looks like them, talks like them, and reflects their culture and heritage. They want a neighborhood where churches praise Jesucristo, with no mosques or temples in sight. They want horchata carts instead of coffee shops, taquerias instead of soul food restaurants. They want a neighborhood where if someone stubs a toe, they scream ¡ay! instead of ouch! Simply put, they want a brown town, and they’ll fight against any other color that tries to muscle in.
The media won’t present the Boyle Heights story honestly, because to do so would expose the ugly and inevitable result of leftist identity politics. It’s a road that doesn’t lead to diversity; it leads to Boyle Heights. It also leads to Leimert Park, one of the few remaining black neighborhoods in L.A., where the locals resist the “threat” of nonblack neighbors, be they white or Latino. And just as in the case of Boyle Heights, when the press covers anti-diversity protests in Leimert Park, it’s always from the perspective of “heroic neighbors fight against gentrification,” not “racist neighbors fight for segregation.”